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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, left, Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam, and founder Robert Redford talk at the opening press conference for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.
I think freedom of expression seems to be in danger in a lot of areas but as far as we’re concerned, we will do everything in our power to keep it alive here —Robert Redford

PARK CITY — Diversity, freedom of expression and change are vital to the success of the Sundance Film Festival, its founder said Thursday.

Robert Redford spoke of his motivation to develop an outlet for creators of smaller films 31 years ago during a time when films with more complex themes were being pushed out of Hollywood.

Since that time, the Sundance Film Festival has exploded, drawing films featuring big Hollywood names and thousands of people from all over the world. This year more films will be shown in Salt Lake to accommodate more filmmakers, so Salt Lake and Park City will be "as one."

Redford said those involved with the Sundance Film Festival "can float the change" as long as they remember their primary motivation.

“The core purpose for me is the same: storytelling, diversity, giving a chance for other kinds of stories to be told in different ways that may upset some people, but that’s part of the American way, that we have independence. And diversity is part of who we are,” Redford told members of the media in a crowded auditorium at the Egyptian Theatre.

One of this year's changes involves Redford himself, whose film "A Walk in the Woods" premieres Friday. He will also be at "The Way of the Rain," dance, film, light and music performances on Monday and Tuesday and will also participate in the Power of Story: Visions of Independence panel Jan. 29 with filmmaker George Lucas as the kickoff to the Art of Film Weekend. The Art of Film Weekend pays tribute to various elements in filmmaking, such as musical scores, design and editing.

"It is weird — very weird," Redford said of his many public appearances this film season.

A second Power of Stories panel — Serious Ladies — will feature Lena Dunham of "Girls," Mindy Kaling of "The Mindy Project" and "The Office," Jenji Kohan of "Orange is the New Black," and Kristen Wiig of "Saturday Night Live" and "Bridesmaids." Emily Nussbaum, a television critic at The New Yorker, will moderate.

“It’s a great collection of women storytellers,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of the festival.

The Serious Ladies panel on Saturday will be one of the live streamed events during Sundance. Such events include the Power of Stories panels, Cinema Cafe events and the closing night award ceremony, hosted by stand-up comic and actress Tig Notaro. A documentary about the comedian, "Tig," will premiere Monday.

Another change for the 2015 festival will be screenings of episodes from "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" and "Animals," projects that blend the rapidly converging worlds of cinema and TV.

Redford, who had his start in TV., said the medium is "advancing faster than major filming," and festival director John Cooper said TV and independent film are "advancing neck and neck."

Cooper said he sees his job as "being responsive … to what our artists are making." The overall quality of submissions and filmmakers has improved over time and there is an "attention to intensity in the works themselves," he said.

"If it’s a comedy, it’s funny and if it’s a drama it has drama to it. … I think the wild ride of this festival is going to be felt by these audiences."

Opening day

Doors down from the Egyptian Theatre, Java Cow Café and Bakery was one of few venues on Park City Main Street that was open for early morning arrivals on opening day. Employees began preparing two weeks in advance, rearranging the store to accommodate crowds that triple their normal flow.

“This is like prime time for us. Best time of the year,” said Sami Davis, manager and daughter of the store owner.

“We’ll have lines down the street” during the peak of the festival, she said.

The Java Cow has attracted stars such as Jay Z, Selena Gomez and members of the Kardashian family during Sundance, Davis said.

Tickets

For those who want to step beyond celebrity sightings to experience the festival itself, there are some available viewings left for purchase throughout the festival.

Actors Orlando Bloom, Lily Tomlin, Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Reynolds, Ethan Hawke, Jonah Hill, James Franco and Richard Dreyfuss star in films playing at the festival.

If a movie you want to see is not available, it is possible to see a film through the waitlist system. For the second consecutive year, viewers can check in on their mobile device or through a self-serve kiosk. Check in about two hours before the film you want to see and arrive at the theater at least 30 minutes before the movie starts. Any available seats will be given to those on the wait list. Tickets are $15 for most films, $10 for Sundance Kids movies. Only cash is accepted for these tickets.

A handful of films kicked off events for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Thursday, including the premiere of "What's Happened, Miss Simone," about Nina Simone, a jazz singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. Musician John Legend is expected to perform following the premiere.

Local football players were featured in the film “In Football We Trust,” premiering at the festival as part of the Native American and Indigenous Program. This is one of a handful of films with Utah ties showing at the festival, including "Beaver Trilogy Part IV" and "Don Verdean."

Sundance Kids returns this year with three films: “Shaun the Sheep,” “The Games Maker” and “Operation Arctic.”

This year will also showcase the premiere of 13 documentaries, a film style that Redford has prioritized at the festival, even before they were popular.

He "saw that they would be on equal footing with film” and added that documentaries provide a type of "long form journalism" to allow people to dive into a specific subject.

Redford said he could not have foreseen how successful the festival would become at its outset decades ago. At that point his main concern was, "Are we going to survive?"

Since then "it grew way beyond my imagination and here it is."

Moving forward, Redford said the festival will continue to be a save haven for new ideas.

"I think freedom of expression seems to be in danger in a lot of areas but as far as we’re concerned, we will do everything in our power to keep it alive here," he said.

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